Ask any angler of a certain age (i.e. older than me!) which book inspired them most as a youngster and more often than not the answer will be Bernard Venables seminal "Mr Crabtree goes Fishing". This post WW2 comic strip book about the young Peter being taught the art of angling by his pipe sucking father was an enormous success and captivated a whole generation of fisher folk young and old.
Bernard Venables trained as an artist - and employed by the Daily Mirror started the Mr Crabtree cartoon series. The comic strip was originally conceived as a gardening advice piece with Mr Crabtree dispensing horticultural tips. However in the winter there was less for Mr C to do in the garden and Bernard being a keen angler himself suggested to his bosses that Mr Crabtree turn his attention to the river bank.
Mr Crabtree was provided with a son to whom he could dispense his piscatorial advice and Peter's boyish enthusiasm is one of the charms of the book. The cartoon was an instant success - and the newspaper were quick to capitalise on it, bringing out the book in 1949 priced at 5 shillings. (At the time and Aerial reel would have set you back 120/- and a Wizard rod 128/-). The book features the comic strip from the newspaper along with water colours, further narrative and discussions on each species and tackle to use. The book sold over 2 million copies in the next decade - for which Venables' and employee of the Daily Mirror received not a penny! (Though he was immensely proud of this work and pleased that he'd attracted so many to the sport).
The success of Mr Crabtree comes in Bernard Venables skill in explanation as well as firing the imagination with his illustrations. Even to this day I know of few books which set out basic water craft as well as the water colour illustrations of rivers with there letter codes for fish lies (A=here be chub!). Most of the information is still sound and pragmatic while the notes of concern for respecting the countryside resonate even more. (BV went on to become in leading light in ACA in the 50's and 60's.)
Some aspects are a little out moded today - early editions - mine included, had Mr C fishing for carp with par boiled spuds and treble hooks. Pike are landed with a gaff and the characters themselves now display a quaint charm. Peter is always pictured in shorts and wellies - regardless of the weather and Mr Crabtree always fishes in a tie - and usually with a pipe clamped between his teeth. And finally I don't know what cast Mr C is trying to demonstrate on The Royalty - but it certainly isn't The Wallis Cast he says it is!
Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing was one of the most influential books in angling literature and should definitely be in the PP H0F!
Inducted on 26/01/2009